April 10, 2008

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This is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes, by Rosanne Olson (2008, Artisan, 115 pages)
By Lisa Parsons lparsons@hippopress.com

How many people have you seen naked?

Real people in real life.

Well, here’s your chance to see a few more. Photographed beautifully, in all their wrinkled/smooth/skinny/flabby/short/tall/dark/pale/shy/bold glory.

All women, all ordinary. Doing their part to counteract the hundreds of images of false, air-brushed, so-called beauty that hit our retinas every day.

Here is 32-year-old Sara, thin, reposing in a velvety chair, who says, “American women complain they’re being objectified, and then rush out to buy stacks of glossy fashion magazines and watch bad movies featuring the beautiful but talentless starlet of the moment.”

Here is 95-year-old Alice, bright-eyed, white-haired, who says, “I’m too busy to dwell on problems.”

Here is 19-year-old Jamie — “Most women I know want their bodies to be the opposite of what they are” — and 33-year-old Kristine — “I am not sure if I will ever accept or love my whole body” — and 64-year-old Kay — “I feel overlooked, which has to do with age.”

Some are happy with their bodies, some not; some are resigned; some express mixed feelings. For each of the 50 women portrayed there is at least one page of photo(s) and a facing page with her personal commentary — her thoughts about her body, how she and others see it, how it’s helped or betrayed her, how she’s helped or betrayed it.

The pictures are superb. This is high-caliber work. Rosanne Olson is a fine art and commercial photographer who’s worked for the likes of the New York City Ballet and Microsoft and has many an award on her shelf (www.rosanneolson.com). I can’t imagine how anyone could have done this book better.

The photos mesh well with the essays and seem to capture something meaningful about each subject. We see women from all sides, lying down, standing, sitting; women with tattoos, women with scars; women totally exposed, women draped in sheer fabrics or covering themselves with folded arms. Some looking right at the camera, some not. No props, no activities, this is a pure photo shoot in a studio whose whole purpose is to show these bodies, artfully yet naturally.

This Is Who I Am, whatever else it does for you, confirms the idea that it really is all in how you see yourself and how you carry yourself.

In a world where we’re bombarded with artifice and where we’re often afraid to show our real selves, we should freely hand out copies of This Is Who I Am and start making volume two. And a big thanks goes to the women who fill the pages. It’s a beautiful book.

Check the preview at http://bodyimagebook.com. (Click on the publicists’ link to “book an exhibition.” Any art curators listening?) A+Lisa Parsons